“The crucifixion was the consequence of the incarnation.” This statement was given to me from one of my favorite professors at Fuller, Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson, in a class that explored the significance of the cross in the New Testament. Her claim has stayed with me, years after leaving that class, and I have written here before of how that thought has impacted the way I have understood my own life in ministry and God’s love for the world.
This past week I was thinking about the incarnation, and I wondered aloud to myself in the car whether the incarnation was the consequence of God. In the same way that Jesus public ministry was one steady progression toward Jerusalem’s cross, the testament of Yahweh as creator and liberator and King is likewise one of a steady progression toward Bethlehem’s cradle.
“Crib and cross—they are both of the same wood, they are of a piece.”
That was how Helmet Thielicke described it, and yet we are tempted to reserve scandal for the cross and take the incarnation as a sentimental gesture.
I was struck this past year by a passage in Exodus where God proclaims his name to Moses. Exodus thirty-four says that: “the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
I recently suggested to Doug that his youth choir sing an arrangement of a song for our Christmas Eve service this year that is more of an Easter song than a Christmas one. There were no angel choirs at the empty tomb, I reasoned. The incarnation was their gloria. I think we can afford to recover a bit of their awe and hear in a baby’s cry the same name Moses heard on a mountain side.
The incarnation is the consequence of God being his name. It is the consequence of a God persistent in pursuit of relationship with his people; it is the consequence of God being who he says he is in relationship to his creation. It is not some strange, surprising detour from a preferred plan.
“Crib and cross…they are of a piece.”